A week ago I woke up in western Iowa, on the northern edge of town, to an absolutely picture-perfect morning. It was the kind of day you want to steal. I was at my father-in-law’s home and we were about to watch a way of life, part of an era, evaporate in front of our eyes.
It was auction day. We had already moved my 89-year father in law into a senior living apartment two days before. The things various family members wanted, a particular rocking chair or trunk, were packed in their cars, trucks, and trailers. And beginning at 8 am sharp, the crew from the auction company carted out everything that remained from my in-laws’ 3000 sq. ft. house, from attic to basement, soup to nuts. By the time people started to gather, everything would be neatly stacked and arranged on tables that extended some 100 feet down the driveway, where a 1950’s red formica and aluminum breakfast table that would have been perfectly at home on the “Leave it to Beaver” set was the first to go.
In smaller midwestern communities and towns, where life moves just that much slower, auctions are social events. Even the friendly hotdog vendor showed up. So did his friends. Neighbors stopped by. Some were curious. Some were peeved that they’d never seen my father-in-laws workshop or that the drill press was already gone. Friends of the auction crew came. Everybody knew someone. By the time the afternoon was out every shred of paper, furniture, plates, tools, even Mason Jars and thousands of kitchen and carpentry doo-dads would be gone.
My in-laws made things with their hands. Literally. After having the house framed, my father-in-law did all the finishing work himself. They gardened. My mother-in-law canned the tomatoes and froze sweet corn. Her college degree was in home economics, and items assembled on the tables reflected that. Milk glass plates and cups for bridge parties. Boxes of old Simplicity patterns. Stacks of matching linen napkins, the creases from ironing still in place. They understood their time, their place and enjoyed their lives.
With one strange exception, something my generation and those following, will never understand completely: they also never threw anything away. The products they bought had been built to last. And they did. Consequently a 1950‘s vegetable ricer, with a wooden pestle, has now found a new home. Someone bid on it and carted if off that afternoon. And so it goes.
Nostalgic? No, not at all. LIfe is constantly cycling around us. Everything has its season. But it is unusual, to see the items of anyone’s life laid out for all to see in this fashion.
As we started the drive back to Texas the next morning the wind kicked back up again. Gusts came across rolling fields that looked like rippled quilts. I’ll remember that last glance, the sharp blue sky, terraced fields stretching forever, and one one small cloud, adding a spec of perspective to all that remained.
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